Where does the phrase "non capiscono un'acca" (meaning "they are stupid") come from?

I understand that "acca" may mean the letter "H", but I am not sure why not "understanding" it may be symptom of not being very smart...

Maybe it comes from "accidente"? In which case, why would it mean what it means?

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  • As for "accidente", I suppose it's intended in Aristotle's meaning, opposed to "sostanza". A person that doesn't even understand accidents (which are supposed to be of relative importance and little complication) is someone that has a very limited mind, and for sure cannot understand the substance of things. Nov 12, 2013 at 15:15

1 Answer 1


Frase fatta capo ha. Dizionario dei modi di dire, proverbi e locuzioni di italiano di Giuseppe Pittàno (Zanichelli, 2009, p.202):

L'identificazione h con niente è dovuta al fatto che in latino la lettera h, in origine aspirata, pian piano si attenuò fino al perdere il valore di aspirazione. Non capire un'acca quindi significa non capire niente.

Translation: Identification of the h with "nothing" comes from the fact that, in Latin, the letter h, at first aspirate, has gradually muted. Non capire un'acca means "(to) not understand anything at all."

  • e che significa 'frase fatta capo ha'? Is it an idiom? Nov 12, 2013 at 20:58
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    @KyriakosKyritsis Frase fatta capo ha is the title of the cited book and a play on words. There is a proverb cosa fatta capo ha (literally: "a deed done has an end"), meaning that what's done can't be undone and should have its consequences (more details here and here). At the same time, frase fatta means "idiom, cliché." The author, Giuseppe Pittàno, has combined two sayings in one witty title.
    – I.M.
    Nov 12, 2013 at 21:54
  • "frase fatta capo ha" is the title of the book @i-m quoted (anobii.com/books/Frase_fatta_capo_ha/9788808161444/…). The title of the book is a pun of the idiom: "cosa fatta capo ha".
    – andcoz
    Nov 12, 2013 at 21:54

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